Message to the Campus Community — September 6, 2018
To the campus community,
As returning faculty, staff, and students know, last fall I asked a group to consider the question of “What knowledge, skills and creative dispositions (KSCD) do we want every student who graduates ten years from now to possess?”
Led by faculty and chaired by Professor Chuck Dorn, the group also included students, staff, and trustees. The question posed is a big one, both in its implications for our College and in the latitude it provided to the group, and they came to articulate it as: “A decade from now, what should be characteristic, and perhaps distinctive, about Bowdoin graduates in how they think, reason, and engage the world?”
Their work benefited from the thoughts and ideas of more than 800 individuals. In addition, the group consulted student survey results pertaining to “skills and abilities” from 462 of the 478 graduates in the Class of 2017. As a result, the findings and recommendations of the working group were deeply informed by the collective views of the College community.
As I said at Convocation on August 28, this group did great work. The result is a report that identifies challenges and opportunities in the world beyond Bowdoin well into the future, affirms the importance of essential aspects of our traditional liberal arts education, and recommends areas of change and emphasis that will allow our students to prepare for the world as it is and will be. It is a document that will both guide us now and be a source for robust discussion for a long time.
At Convocation, I described work ahead for us to ensure that we continue to provide our students with an exceptional liberal arts education and experience over the next ten to fifteen years, and well beyond—one that will also continue to draw the most amazing students and faculty to the College, as we have for generations. This includes a reaffirmation of the timeless aspects of what we do, important changes to the curriculum, encouraging systematic academic innovation and a culture of experimentation, ongoing work to enhance inclusion, community, and discourse, a steadfast commitment to access, and investing in a career planning program that is available to all students regardless of financial circumstance. Some of what I described, and the work we will do ahead, was drawn from the KSCD report, and some is the result of the work and considerable discussion—including the statement of our ambitions and the Ad Hoc Committee on Inclusion—that has been ongoing on campus over the last several years.
After reviewing the KSCD report with Dean McCormack and Dean Foster, and discussing it with the Committee on Governance and Faculty Affairs (GFA), I want to describe the work we will be doing as it relates specifically to its recommendations. This is work that will involve the faculty extensively through standing committees and more generally and engage everyone in the Bowdoin community. It falls into five broad categories:
1) Integrated Thinking
We will examine how we can substantially increase our commitment to an interdisciplinary curriculum and research, one that is more problem-, place- (local and global), and collection-based. As the KSCD report points out, we already have several successful and robust models for integrated thinking and work. We will look to build from these examples, provide resources to encourage and reward collaboration, eliminate the structural barriers that exist to this work, and build the capability for academic innovation and the sharing of best practices on campus and with other institutions.
2) Digital and Computational Literacy
We will continue our plans to build our Digital and Computational Studies (DCS) initiative in order to expand opportunities for our students to gain experience with computational thinking and analysis, and to critique data collection and use. In addition, Dean McCormack and GFA are discussing the appropriate faculty committee to consider how we might establish and test a second-year course that focuses on quantitative, digital, and information literacy for every student at Bowdoin.
3) Ethical Judgment
Dean McCormack will also work with GFA to undertake work to determine how we might infuse, across the curriculum, systematic exposure to the challenges and imperatives for exercising ethical judgment.
4) Sophomore Experience
Dean Foster will examine the recommendation to provide a more clearly defined sophomore experience, one that will gather into a cohesive second-year program much of the work on “practical knowledge” that occurs here. Renovating Boody-Johnson House for a College House and constructing new upperclass housing will free up existing junior and senior housing for our sophomores, providing the opportunity for a more robust residential experience for sophomores.
As we have been discussing for the last several years, developing in our students the capability to engage in thoughtful, meaningful, and respectful discourse about the toughest issues we face as a society is an essential element of our mission. I am incredibly heartened to see in the KSCD report that there is a significant appetite to further develop these skills, something we will continue to do both inside and outside the classroom. As I mentioned earlier, and at Convocation, this work is linked tightly to the work to enhance our capability to understand and appreciate the many identities, backgrounds, and experience we each bring to Bowdoin, and our commitment to strengthen the Bowdoin community.
As I described above, the question posed to the KSCD group was a big one. This was intentional because it allowed them to explore, without preordaining a path or outcome by tightly scripting their charge. In this spirit, they expanded the notion of “creative dispositions” to “dispositions for learning” in general. This kind of adjustment is precisely what a group like this should do in their work, and thoughtful insights emerged as a result. That said, Dean McCormack and I have spent significant time over the last year talking with department chairs in the humanities and the arts. As I have discussed on a number of occasions, some of these courses of study face the challenge of declining enrollments and majors at college campuses across the country. Nonetheless, the humanities and the arts, broadly defined, are essential elements of a great liberal arts education and institution. Some of the work that follows from the KSCD report will directly benefit student engagement with the humanities (integrated thinking, for example), and we will also be devoting additional time to considering what more we can do in this regard, including as it relates to the creative arts and performance. In addition, success in enhancing our career planning program will lead more students to follow their intellectual interests and to worry less about studies they believe are tied to jobs they may seek after graduation.
This is an incredibly exciting time to be at Bowdoin. The work that lies ahead, both that which follows from the KSCD report and from the other aspects that I have discussed, will challenge us and require an appetite for change and experimentation—nothing new in our long history. As I said, it is work that will necessarily deeply involve the faculty and the entire community, and it is work that will take time. We are prepared to create space and time to allow for this change, to motivate and incentivize the efforts it will require, and to recognize and reward the work. We intend to invest in people, to add or build new capacity where we have gaps and bottlenecks, and to reduce structural and other impediments to innovation. We welcome your thoughts about, and engagement with, the insights and recommendations in the KSCD report and the work that will follow in the months and years ahead.
Finally, I want to again express my great thanks to Chuck Dorn and to the members of the KSCD working group for their effort, time, and tremendous wisdom.
All the best,